Re: [ACAT] That Classifying Impuse (off-topic-ish)

Posting to Autocat

On 1/28/2014 1:57 PM, Cab Vinton wrote:

Fascinating thread on MetaFilter about a subject near & dear to catalogers’ hearts:
(To winnow out the chaff, MetaFilter has a $5 fee to join & allow postings — a strategy that works surprisingly well.)

Well, I for one, won’t pay the $5.00, so my comments will be the “chaff” for here. 🙂

I have studied this, at least to a point, and “classification” can be thought of either as a kind of hierarchy (taxonomy), or it can be thought of as a set of groupings, or “categories”. Our experience of the world is in “categories” because when we see, touch, smell or sense something, our brains immediately “classify” it or “categorize” it as: this thing is a book, or a cat, or this smells like roses or tastes like chicken, or whatever. When we experience something we cannot categorize, even then it is categorized in our minds as “weird stuff”.

As a result of this categorization/classification that our brains do (and we cannot prevent it), the word “chair” means something to us, even though there is no generalized “chair” that anyone can point to. All we can point to are various examples of chairs, and as a result, when someone says “chair”, we have this nebulous thought in our heads of a “chair” (although there are many, many, many different kinds of chair) that we can share to exchange ideas. What is this nebulous concept in our heads? People have discussed it for thousands of years and still disagree. And individuals relate to these concepts differently, e.g. what constitutes “beauty”? As we all know, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Do these philosophical musings have consequences for library catalogs? Absolutely. People may want information on “world war one”. Therefore, we are talking about a “grouping” or “category” that people want. The difference is, in the library world, there are definite groupings of materials, e.g. “the set of all materials with the heading World War, 1914-1918.” These groupings exist and all can see them. Therefore, the person who is interested in specific topics either finds, or does not find, the “correct” groupings. This also has huge consequences for those who make the groupings, (also called “catalogers”) who either do or do not succeed at the job of creating those groupings.

With full-text searches such as in Google, all this disappears and algorithms take over. I don’t know how to fit algorithms into this discussion, so maybe I’lI have a look around and consider.

A few philosophical musings to share with those who may be interested…